Preserving the Human Touch in Email Marketing Automation
The robot doesn’t know. It’s just following a set of programmed instructions. That’s why technology may be smart … but we can’t expect it to be wise.
The wisdom is supposed to come from us. You and I. Flesh and blood. Replete with logical flaws, yet the ability to seamlessly navigate a maddeningly complex world that doesn’t always follow a simple algorithm.
Which is why we experience such Schadenfreude when someone drives into a lake because their GPS told them to. That person should know better. Or as a Google spokesperson commented (in a huge understatement) when a woman followed Waze’s navigation into Lake Champlain, users should “use all environmental information available to them to make the best decisions as they drive.”
This is the major challenge with technology — the convergence of human and machine. How well has your brand navigated this intersection? Is your brand using all of your “environmental information,” or driving your customers into the proverbial lake with your marketing automation?
A recent example …
Most Brands Are Marketing Cyborgs in 2019
I recently purchased a car. When I did so, I filled out many lead forms to allow different dealerships to compete for my business. This unleashed a torrent of email, a cyborg combination of human and automated communication. And it highlighted how difficult it is for companies to elegantly intersperse actual human communication with email marketing automation in customer interactions.
The marketing automation emails were signed by the same humans who I got actual one-to-one emails from. But the communication from human and machine was like two ships passing in the night. I’d get an actual email from Luis, and then I’d get an automated email from Luis that had none of the context the actual email had.
As a marketer, I understood I was added to an automated drip campaign the minute my lead came in. The average customer may be aware of technology’s presence, or they may just assume the salesperson they’re dealing with has a Jekyll and Hyde personality and they can’t really trust this person.
This isn’t unique to car dealerships, of course. At MECLABS Institute and MarketingSherpa, we use a combination of one-to-one, one-to-few and one-to-many emails. A combination of triggered, drip, batch, customer service and personal emails. And many B2B and B2C companies — especially when they have a complex sale — do so, as well.
A few mistakes I noticed in the process, so you can avoid them, as well:
- Receiving automated email signed by the sales rep that had no correlation to previous conversations. For example, the day after I said I got a better deal somewhere else and told a sales rep I would likely buy that car instead of his, I got a “We would like to invite you to come visit us as soon as you can” email as if we never had a conversation before.
- Getting an automated re-engagement email signed by the sales rep. A few days after I emailed to let a sales rep know I would be buying a car elsewhere, I got a re-engagement “You may have noticed my recent attempts to get in touch with you” email.
- Automated email that assumed the sales rep took action that the rep didn’t. For this one, I’m guessing the sales rep has an SLA of sorts to provide certain information by a certain time after the lead comes in. But those sales reps are human, so they don’t always do it. I received an “I sent you an email and attempted to call you yesterday regarding your Internet inquiry” automated email, even though I had no record of that contact.
- Messaging that refers to something the customer knows isn’t true. I never provided my phone number on any form. So when I got the previous email about the rep trying to call me, I knew it couldn’t possibly be true. Customers will not always complete lead forms the way you want them to.
- Personalization errors. This happens all the time, amiright? “I would like to schedule an appointment for you to come in and test drive the dsYEARds dsMAKEds dsMODELds that you inquired about.”
- Totally ignoring my lead submission. This was, frankly, the most annoying. One dealership completely ignored my comments in the original lead form, and even my reply. I would simply keep getting an email signed by the sales rep to try to get me in the door — “I would like to set an appointment for you to come in and look over our inventory.” If you’re going to leave a field in your lead form for comments, make sure an actual human is reading them and responding.
- Taking too long. I reached out and bought the car over fairly quickly while MECLABS offices were closed for the holidays. I received a surprising amount of first-touch emails after I already bought a car — the longest was eight days after! Direct marketers are very well versed in the RFM acronym. That very first letter stands for recency — recency of when they purchased, sure, but the recency of a lead inquiry and the quickness in responding can make or break a sale, as well. Get to your prospects before they lose interest. For example, financial services company Simple tested a drip campaign and discovered a cart abandonment email sent after two days increased conversion 107% over an email sent after seven days.
- Handling all leads the same way. All of the above were Internet submissions. But before I did any of that, I went into an actual dealership to test drive a car, just to make sure the car I researched in Consumer Reports was the one I really wanted to buy.
Simply because I visited the dealership — instead of just filling out an online form — should have indicated that I had a higher level of motivation and received a drip that acknowledged my visit.
But the dealership put me in a generic welcome campaign. There was a video about the dealership, an email from the big boss to make sure I was getting treated well.
The most curious automated email came from the sales manager I met in person just a few days prior. I had just spent an hour or so test driving two cars with the sales rep and discussing the car I wanted. Yet the email asked if test driving the car was important to me. That’s like running into someone at a party you’ve met several times, and they act like you’ve never met before. Am I really not that memorable? Is my time really not that valuable? Ouch.
A Few Tips for Overcoming These Human + Marketing Automation Challenges
I don’t mean to throw stones. I’ve certainly had my share of fails trying to mix marketing automation with the human touch. I just want to help your company avoid similar problems. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Sales enablement is key — Make sure your sales reps understand your automated campaigns. Have them print the emails out and put them up in their cubicles. Put a giant diagram on the wall or in the break room. Subscribe them to the drip campaigns, so sales reps see what it’s like to receive these emails. You can’t blame the sales folks for this miscommunication if the marketing automation platform is just the secret wizard behind the curtain.
- Establish a feedback loop — Make it easy for sales reps to change the automation sends an individual prospect receives based on their interaction with that prospect — and I mean knife-through-hot-butter easy, because quota-carrying reps do not want their attention taken away from good leads. Don’t make sales reps work with the automation platform themselves. Give them an email admin to contact. Or add a simple field in the CRM. And perhaps even offer an incentive so they do it. Or at the very least, let them know that because these automated emails are signed by the sales reps, it’s not just the overall brand perception that will suffer. The sales rep will also look foolish when an uncoordinated conversation takes place after a prospect has indicated they are no longer interested.
- QA — Make a quality assurance checklist and have someone go through these emails and make sure everything is working correctly. This also applies to the recency of followup once the campaign is actually live. By going through the process like a customer, you might discover that a poorly programmed cron job is taking far too long to add leads to a database and get emails out to them. QA (or mystery shopping) can also uncover faults in the human touch followup.
- Audit — The great thing about marketing automation is that you can set it and forget it. The challenge of marketing automation is that you can set it and forget it. Things change. Make sure you regularly go back through your drip and triggered campaigns and ensure the information is still accurate.
- Learn from your prospects — With both your messaging and your system, make it easy for the customer to give you feedback. If your system is complex enough, you’re going to miss some stuff. But if your brand’s language and actions are customer-first in nature, your prospects will be pulling for you and help point our your system’s flaws. And make it easy for customers to reach you. Have customer service or sales reps actively monitor all inboxes. Monitor social media and implement live chat. And whatever you do, avoid do not reply emails.
A ‘Lead’ Is Really ‘A Person of Value’
These might seem like simple, foolish automation mistakes. But never forget — a lead is a person of value. The reason you assign a human sales rep to your leads to begin with is to serve that person and build trust. Trust with their budget. Trust with their time. Even trust with their career.
Marketing automation done right can help you better build that trust.
But only if you do it right.
Related story: Factors for Marketers to Consider in Attribution Rules
Daniel Burstein is the Senior Director, Content and Marketing at MECLABS Institute. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the marketing direction for MECLABS — digging for actionable discoveries while serving as an advocate for the audience.